The Employee Experience of Learning Cricket
I might be one of the only Americans you’ll find who watches, understands, and likes cricket. When I disclose this fact to people, they often don’t know what to do with this new information. Americans will say mentions the game being 12 days long or something like that, with a score that approaches the number of decimals places in π. For those that know the game because they are from one of the former British colonies, they’ll inquire whether I’m from Australia or England. Why would an American know anything about cricket to the point of name dropping the best players and how a pitch is bowling? It is a fair question.
My interest in cricket dates back to the three weeks I spent in Bahrain teaching for Bentley University. The year was 2003, and it was a perfectly timed trip to coincide with the World Cup happening in South Africa. At the time I knew nothing about cricket. However, it became very clear very quickly that if I wanted to engage in a conversation with anyone who was working in Bahrain, I would need to know cricket. In Bahrain, a large proportion of those working there are from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Great Britain, and a few other cricket-based countries. When I wasn’t teaching, I was watching cricket. And asking questions about cricket. And generally learning the game.
One episode stands out to me. I was sitting in my room doing work for school. One of the housekeeping staff, a young Indian chap, came by to freshen up my room. As is the case in such situations, there was a lot of “Good morning, sir. How are you, sir? Nice to see you, sir.” The works. The staff at the hotel were very accommodating and friendly as a rule. Being there for three weeks, you build a familiarity with them. They are CX pros.
Once he saw the match on the television, his housekeeping character broke. In its place came the cricket fan character. We were both just standing there watching the match, waiting for the next delivery, anticipating wickets or boundaries. Two sports fans taking in the events on the screen. Chatting about it. Doing what sports fans do. No longer separated by nationality, social class, education, opportunity, privilege. We just watched the match for a spell. Then he had to move onto the next room and departed as I continued to watch. A mundane moment, but magical as well.
This knowledge of cricket has served me well in numerous situations. There was the time I was delivered to the wrong hotel in Dubai. My taxi misunderstood my instructions, and there I was very late at night having to wait for another ride to arrive. I stood at the counter in silence, with two Indian chaps behind the registration counter. We were silent. What do you say at a time like this to break the ice? Pulling on my reservoir of cricket knowledge, I simply asked them, “Can you explain cricket to me?” Their eyes lit up as they rushed over to create a diagram of an oval, the stumps and wickets, the boundary, structure of the overs, and all else that is involved in the game. Even though I already knew cricket, I needed something to create a conversational moment, a topic that could be shared and reduce social distance. Sports is a good standby, and I knew cricket would do it. To reciprocate, they even asked me about baseball and how it was played. We were engaged in a cultural exchange. A fine time was had until my cab arrived and took me to my destination. .
I continue to watch cricket, including the Australian Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League. My favorite team in the latter is the Royal Challengers Bangalore. I keep up with their matches and watch them on my Willow TV subscription when possible. Through this, I learn more about the game, as well as about India from the commercials. I now know that Indian children who work abroad are worried about letting their parents down, and as a result need a variety of apps to send them money (which makes their parents very happy). I know that the modern Indian working woman wants to make authentic Indian meals for her family, and there are a variety of brands that will allow her to do so very quickly after she is home. I can see the dating services to help that same Indian woman find a husband who encourages her career. I know that Prem Jyotish can help me with achieving my goals and see my future. A handy guy to have in your corner.
This is not to say that all Indians like and follow cricket. There are almost 1.4 billion Indians, so to imply that all of them like cricket would be an unfair stereotype. Thus, knowing about cricket will likely only be a conversation starter with about 1.2 billion of them. The other 200,000,000 I don’t know what to do with. There you are your own. Otherwise, I am pretty confident that you could drop me down into a café in Mumbai, and I could manage quite nicely in talking about how the Mumbai Indians beat the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL Final off of Malinga’s final delivery (a yorker). It was quite the moment, let me tell you.
All of this means that if you want to build rapport between you American workers and those in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Bangladesh, or even England (amongst others), it would be a good idea to have a quick training program on how cricket is played (in the ODI 50 over format for the purposes of the World Cup). Better yet, give some of your employees from cricket-centric countries the task of putting the training together. Give project groups different national teams in the tournament as their team to follow for the tournament (no one with a heart or stress condition should be given Pakistan). Have updates on the standings of the tournament. Set up some stumps and wickets on the grass. Let people try spin bowling and fast bowling. Add your own ideas as well in terms of integrating the World Cup into the conversations in the workplace. There is much you can do to engage in a sports exchange.
Ultimately, the point here is to reduce social distance by creating a common topic for people to engage, as well as a common experience through which to do it. Have fun by focusing on a sport that is incredibly important to a lot of people around the work and in the workplace. Focus less attention on ‘sophisticated stereotypes’ about Indian culture delivered in corporate intercultural training programs (a topic for another blog and something on which I have published), and more on those topics that have immediate relevance to people’s everyday lives. Providing people a pathway to connect through sports is a perfect opportunity to create some workplace cohesion and rapport. The 2019 Cricket World Cup is the perfect opportunity to do so.